BY MICHELLE KEY
LEE COUNTY —
It is time to say goodbye to 2022. It has become a tradition for The Observer to share with our readers a recap of the past 12 months.
January 2022 started off with sadness as the city of Opelika mourned the loss of former council member Dr. Robert Lofton, who passed away on New Year’s Day. Lofton had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) prior to his passing. Lofton served as the Opelika Ward 3 council member before stepping down due to his illness.
Also notable in January, Lee County welcomed Holly Leverette as the incoming county administrator. Point Broadband LLC donated $100,000 to the city of Opelika as a sponsor of the new pickleball facility and Auburn saw new roundabouts at Cox and Wire roads. Tim Aja was seated as the Opelika Ward 3 Council Member and former Opelika Council Member Patsy Jones created a legacy scholarship. AO Tourism won Tourism Organization of the Year, and Bonnie Plants opened its headquarters in Opelika. Iconic Heritage Gifts and Gourmet closed its doors in downtown Opelika after being in business 28 years, and Auburn University’s campus experienced “Pearlville.”
Opelika City Schools Superintendent Mark Neighbors announced his retirement in February and Food Truck Fridays rolled out the first Friday night of February. The historic mural at the Museum of East Alabama was started by Christoph Johnson, and Creekline Trails started its trail building work. Also in February, the competition arena at Auburn University was renamed the Neville Arena and Chris Roberts was named AU’s 21st president.
The Glenwood girls’ basketball team took top honors and earned the state championship title. Ross Morris was sworn in as the District 2 Lee County Commissioner.
March 3 will forever be remembered as the day of the Lee County tornadoes that took the lives of 23 community members, including four children in 2019. March 3, 2022, marked the third anniversary of the storms. Dr. Linda Farmer, nicknamed Lee County’s Wonder Woman, passed away after her battle with cancer. Farmer was a beloved oncologist that helped thousands of patients in their own fights with the disease.
Creekwood Resources held its groundbreaking event at the site of the quarry located in Beulah. Southern Union State Community College celebrated its 100th year of service to the area. The annual Whatley Stew and BBQ hosted its 114th event, and longtime Opelika resident, Addie Elizabeth Abercrombie, celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by family and friends.
Jim Bob’s of downtown announced its plans to rebrand and reopened as The Next Level Café. A proposed apartment complex — The Taylor — also announced its plans, creating a firestorm of debate and public comments for months. Niagara Bottling LLC announced its plans to open a production facility in Opelika.
The Smiths Station Community Band held its first concert and former Loachapoka football coach Larry Dichiara and Auburn High School track coach Wayne Murphy were inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame.
Dr. Farrell Seymore was named superintended of Opelika City Schools(OCS); Kelli Fischer became Opelika High School (OHS) principal; and Opelika’s Orrin “Boody” Brown turned 102. The mural at the East Alabama Museum was completed and a second mural was installed at the museum by Auburn University’s Department of Art and Art History.
Kendyl Hollingsworth joined The Observer the first week of May, and Cyberzone reopened after a nearly yearlong closure due to catastrophic water damage to its facility. Channing Torbert and Vera Smith T were crowned Mr. and Miss OHS, and SUSCC awarded its inaugural Chris Mitchum Memorial Scholarship to Nathaniel Smitherman.
Auburn’s Ward 4 Council Member Brett Smith resigned from his position, and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind Resource Center Opelika opened. Shinwa announced plans for a 400,000-square-foot facility in Auburn.
May also brought contested election results with Jay Hovey outing incumbent Tom Whatley by a single vote in the primary race for Alabama State Senate District 27 seat. Whatley eventually conceded the primary race to Hovey.
Executive Director of Keep Opelika Beautiful (KOB) Tipi Miller resigned and took the executive director position of United Way in June. Priscilla Blythe was named executive director of KOB. Glynn Smith Chevrolet Buick GMC celebrated its 30th year, and the Point Broadband Pickleball Facility at the Opelika Sportsplex held its grand opening.
Dozier Smith T was honored by the Opelika Chamber of Commerce with the Spirit of Opelika award, and Auburn’s inclusive playground at Town Creek Park opened to the public.
June brought the news that a local man, Winston Hagans, was found guilty of criminal littering for leaving flower boxes at the gravesite of his fiancée, Hannah Ford. The news of his arrest and the charges filed against him by Ford’s father made the international news circuit.
The Opelika Chamber of Commerce announced its Forward Opelika campaign — an effort to raise more than $5 million to renovate the former Lewis Cooper Memorial Library building and turn it into a visitor center, office spaces and a business incubator.
Tony Langley won the primary election for District 4 county commission seat in a runoff election against incumbent Robert Ham. Opelika’s Make Your Move Performing Arts Studio won national recognition at the Platinum National Dance Competition. Leroy Burrell became Auburn High School’s Track and Field coach. Longtime Opelika community leader and educator William Parker Sr. passed away, as did Lee County’s Coroner Bill Harris. Harris had served as coroner for more than 30 years.
The Observer announced that it took top honors — First Place General Excellence, First Place Most Improved, plus 13 additional first place awards — in the annual Alabama Press Association Best Media contest in June.
July brought Fuzzy Tacos to Auburn and Tee-Time Golf Studio to Opelika. AuburnBank opened its newest location in downtown Auburn on North Gay Street, but it also saw the destruction of Opelika’s Maffia’s Italian restaurant from an early morning fire that ravaged the building.
Cecil Rogers, longtime employee at Smith T’s Hardware, was honored for his 50th year with the company, and 8-year-old Della J. Morgan took her shaved ice business to the World Games in Birmingham.
The city of Auburn was named a winner of the ETC Institute’s Leading the Way award, and Tim Hudson was named Lee-Scott Academy’s baseball coach. Smiths Station got a new varsity boys’ basketball coach — Armon Ingersall.
“We’ll Meet Again,” a musical production based on the life of Opelikian Henry Stern, was performed at the Opelika Center for the Performing Arts, and Opelika Theatre Company staged “Newsies” to sold out crowds at the Southside Center for the Arts in Opelika.
East Alabama Health’s Dr. Njideka Obikwe performed her 1,000th robotic-assisted surgery, becoming only the third obstetrician-gynecologist in Alabama to do so.
Bitty and Beau’s Coffee shop opened in Auburn, and both Southern Crossing and The Gallery reopened in temporary locations following the fire on Railroad Avenue in downtown Opelika in July.
September brought arrests to a 22-year-old cold case in Opelika when two individuals were charged with murder. Opelika saw an uptick in violence, not only in September but through the spring and summer. The Observer sat down with Opelika Police Chief Shane Healey and Captain Jonathan Clifton to discuss the situation.
The Hey Day Market on Auburn’s campus opened, and the long-awaited Botanic also opened in Opelika. Wickles Pickles announced its Pickle Beer collaboration. The city of Smiths Station held a 9/11 Heroes Run: A Run to Remember, honoring the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
Robyn Bridges and Tiffany Gibson were selected for the “Focus Empowered” 40 Over 40 Awards and Opelika’s Angela George released her first children’s book, “Monkey Tales.”
District 7 Lee County Board of Education Member Brian Roberson passed away on Sept. 7, 2022, and was honored by the board during its monthly meeting. Shana Johnson was named Smiths Station’s athletic director and Opelika’s Erik Speakman was named All-Star Football game coach.
Beloved Opelika community member Lorna Roberts passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 30.
OHS senior Alexandria Torbert was selected as the secretary for the National Future Business Leaders of America, and Opelika’s theatre society was selected as the only Alabama school to have the opportunity to stage Disney’s “Frozen: The Broadway Musical.” Only one school from each of the 50 states was selected for this opportunity.
Sam DiChiara and Garrett Martinez joined The Observer and launched its new podcast, the Lee County Listener. Local business owner Molly Anderson, and her family appeared on “Family Feud.”
A little less than a year after it went into effect, Opelika repealed its rental registration ordinance. Opelika’s Neighborhood Wellness Mobile Clinic was completed and declared ready to hit the road to serve area citizens. Napoleon Stringer was named as the new District 7 Lee County Board of Education member.Auburn Area Community Theatre staged”James and the Giant Peach.”
The fall air of November saw the opening of the new Archery Park at Spring Villa and Opelika Main Street moved into its new office space in the former Heritage Gifts building.
Lee-Scott Academy won its state championship football game and Bryan Harsin was fired as Auburn University’s head football coach. Cornell “Cadillac” Williams was named as the interim coach to finish out the season. His hire ignited a firestorm of community support.
Opelika’s own Adam Hood made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry; Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller earned the prestigious CMO Emeritus Designation.
A. J. Harris was named the director of operations for the Boys and Girls Clubs of East Alabama and Melissa Munford-McCurdy became the interim director of Opelika Main Street.
Ibraheem Yazeed was indicted on three counts of murder for the death of Southern Union student Aniah Blanchard.
Huge Freeze was hired as Auburn University’s new head football coach. Auburn High School’s Lady Tigers flag football team won the state championship. Smiths Station head football coach Mike Glisson announced that he was stepping down as the Panthers’ coach.
Katie Whittelsey was named the president of the Community Foundation of East Alabama. Christie Hill State Farm Insurance of Opelika was named Alabama’s Small Business of the Year in the 1 to 10 employees category.
Businesses along First Avenue in downtown Opelika experienced detrimental flooding during a heavy rain event, prompting the city of Opelika to consider ways to resolve the drainage issue that has plagued the businesses even after the streetscape project was completed.
Sgt. First Class Raymond Penland was awarded a bronze star by the Army 72 years after he was killed in action in North Korea.
The Observer would like to take this opportunity to thank the community for its continued support. It is our goal to continue to serve the community by providing local news and information to all. Without you, we would not be able to do what we love doing.